When attempting to improve our Physical Wellness, we often jump to extremes. “I am going to lose 30 pounds by eating only raw food,” or “Run 5 miles everyday.” Sound familiar? Starting a new exercise routine, eating a better diet and reaching towards improved Physical Wellness are excellent goals. They can also be overwhelming. Any major life overhaul needs a steady foundation to prevent relapse into the old behaviors of a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits. So, what are the micromovements toward Physical Wellness that you can start taking right now? Proper posture and correct breathing.

Breathing is something we each do as many as 20,000 times a day. We all know the importance of breathing during exercise, but the remainder of our inhales and exhales have a serious impact on our health as well. The breathing we take for granted actually has a lot to do with how we feel, both physically and emotionally. How we breathe affects our stress levels, our metabolism and the supply of oxygen to the cells and tissues throughout the body. It could be that many of us are missing some of the key points to proper breathing for wellness.

There are two types of inefficient breathing, and many people use these two types more often than proper breathing:

Apical Breathing: Also known as shallow breathing, apical breathing uses only the upper chest during inhalation. Breaths are short, inefficient and only fill a fraction of the lungs. This creates a lack of oxygen throughout the body.

Paradoxical Breathing: This technique is used by professional dancers and gymnasts, and it focuses on keeping the abdomen tucked in during the intake of air. Many people breathe this way without realizing what they are doing, sucking their stomachs in for fear that others will see their bellies. In this practice, abdominal muscles don’t relax, and this holds organs in the abdomen immobile. In turn, the lateral ribs and scalenes (the muscles in the neck that assist with rib elevation) must compensate. Again, this is not a proper method for regular, everyday breathing.

So what does proper breathing look like? Diaphragmatic breathing utilizes both the chest and abdomen. This type of breathing promotes relaxation by decreasing the effects of the sympathetic nervous system, which controls our reaction to stress. Full, deep diaphragmatic breathing is the easiest way to achieve relaxation, and for those concerned about their midsections, the actions of inflation and deflation that occur during diaphragmatic breathing actually strengthen the abs.

Step One: Proper Posture

Posture and diaphragmatic go hand in hand. We cannot have bad posture if we’re practicing correct breathing techniques, and conversely, it is impossible to breathe improperly if our posture is good.

In normal posture, gravity acts in a balanced line on the curves of the spine. Slumping the shoulders decreases available space in the chest and abdomen, allowing only a little air to make it into the lungs. Make sure your spine is tall. Try imagining that there is a string attached to the crown of your head and pulling straight up. The chin comes down and back slightly, and the neck lengthens.

Realign yourself by broadening your shoulders and pulling them gently down, opening your chest. Now, take a long, smooth inhale through your nose, allowing the ribs and stomach to expand. The more expansion you feel through your abdomen, the better. Deep, nasal inhales warm and filter the air before it enters the lungs and should create a feeling of rejuvenation and relaxation throughout the rest of the body, particularly the muscles.

If you experience any pain during this exercise, stop. Try lying on the floor. This is actually one of the best ways to practice diaphragmatic breathing, as it assures that the chest is as open as possible. Those suffering from back pain can place a rolled towel or bolster under the knees to take the pressure off the lower back.

Your exhale can come through the nose or mouth, as long as it occurs in a steady stream. Don’t deflate your lungs and blow out all the air at once.

Possible Roadblocks

It’s hard to believe that breathing and posture are such an important part of health, and you might find yourself thinking:

“That’s too much to think about! I can’t possibly concentrate on slow, steady breathing and my posture all the same time.”

In the beginning, practicing proper breathing and posture will take some thought and work, but eventually they will become habitual. You won’t even have to think about it anymore. If you need some extra help finding the motivation to keep it up, think about how much better you feel when you’re practicing proper breathing and posture. When you can see and feel the results, you’ll be much more likely to put forth the effort.

“Sitting and standing straight hurts my back.”

If proper posture hurts your back, that’s most likely because you’ve never done it consistently before. Do some stretching exercises to loosen the muscles and make it even easier. After you’ve made it habitual, proper posture is truly the most comfortable way to sit and stand, especially for longer periods. When you’re practicing proper posture, your spine is in its most natural alignment, which is easier on the bones, joints and muscles. It takes a lot of the pressure off.

The importance of proper breathing and posture cannot be stressed enough when you’re working on Physical Wellness. These are foundation principles. If you don’t have a strong foundation, everything you build on top of it will be shaky. Redirect yourself by saying, “Eventually this will become a healthy habit, and until then, it’s worth it for me to do the work.”

Action Items

-Try Breathing Diaphragmatically. Lie on the floor comfortably, making sure that your chest is open and your muscles are relaxed. Begin to inhale, counting to eight. Allow your lungs to fill completely with air. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Are both areas expanded? Take the air in throughout the abdomen first, then fill the chest, allowing the entire torso to expand gently. Now, release the air slowly, pushing all of the air out while you count to eight again. Do this 10 times, focusing on expanding your abdomen and taking full, deep, slow breaths.

-Practice posture. Stand in front of a mirror. Turn so that you can see yourself from the side. Broaden your shoulders and pull them down, opening your chest. Relax your head directly on top of the spine, chin slightly tucked, ears in line with the shoulders. It should feel as if your head is simply resting on top of your spine without tension in the neck. Imagine a pole running down the length of your spine. Tilt your pelvis down, but don’t pull your pelvis so far forward that it causes the shoulders to slump. The goal is to create a neutral spine. Stand this way for a moment and feel the position of your body. Throughout the day, remember to stand or sit this way for proper alignment and breathing.

-Take three deep breaths. One of the best ways to check your breathing and release tension is to use the Three Deep Breaths method. Plan tomorrow to focus on your breathing. When you get up in the morning, take three deep, diaphragmatic breaths first thing. Then, throughout the rest of the day, stop each hour and do the same thing again, making sure to feel the sensation throughout your body. This will help train you to breathe properly.

If these things come easily for you, and you are ready for more physical wellness ideas, check out our Quick Tips for Physical Wellness and the importance of setting goals for more ideas on where to begin.

Practicing diaphragmatic breathing and proper posture helps to boost our immune systems, lowers stress levels, increases lymphatic flow and gives our bodies the oxygen they need to cleanse themselves of toxins and run at optimum levels. Learning to take longer and deeper breaths not only increases our Physical Wellness, but also enhances our Emotional, Spiritual and Environmental Wellness as well. Bringing consciousness to our bodies in this way reminds us of our physical presence, and helps attune us to the vital signals that our bodies are sending us all the time. When we connect to ourselves in this way, we can truly come to know the beauty of the physical experience of life—and get a lot healthier and happier along the way!

Author's Bio: 

Jessica Rhodes is a certified wellness advisor for the 123 Feel Better Company. The 123 Feel Better® Life Change System™ is a wellness program designed to help individuals reach their wellness goals and live fuller, more complete lives. 123 Feel Better is based on the 7 Aspects of Wellness™ model. Learn how to make real changes in the areas of Emotional, Physical, Spiritual, Environmental, Occupational, Social, and Intellectual Wellness to create a balanced life with 123 Feel Better and our free wellness resources at 123 Feel Better.